CURSIVE – Mama, I’m Swollen (2009)

Cursive - Mama, I'm Swollen Mama, I’m Swollen has the regrettable distinction of being the worst Cursive album to date. But even though it can’t hold a candle to any of the band’s previous work, there is a strong temptation to let much of its failure off the hook simply because Tim Kasher and co. are trying so valiantly to mix the theatrics of The Ugly Organ and Happy Hollow with the personal tragedies that made Domestica such a hellishly bold album.

Now it’s not like the aforementioned strategy wouldn’t be the logical next step for a Cursive album, if it were executed properly. But that’s precisely the problem with Mama, I’m Swollen – it’s so deliberate in its devotion to the Cursive sound(s) in parts and so generic and uninteresting in others that I can’t tell if it is that next step or not. But despite its somewhat metaphysical aesthetic messiness, there are a few good songs to be found here, particularly Donkeys (which sounds as though it could be Dorothy At Forty’s lost brother/sister) and I Couldn’t Love You, which despite (or perhaps because of) its grandiloquence, is the most genuine sounding song on the album.

I’m not entirely sure what it is that makes Mama, I’m Swollen as unsatisfying as it is, but I think I’ve got it narrowed down to two things. First, the album exhibits a startling lack of the wit which gave previous Cursive albums their impact; their material has always been blunt, yes, but on songs like We’re Going To Hell and Caveman (the latter of which features Kasher berating himself, or possibly not himself, for not being a member of high society, a dapper dan, a husband or a dad) feel a bit too obvious to harbor any sort of revelation.

That last part is the biggest problem with Mama, I’m Swollen – it doesn’t say much of anything about anything. For a band who used to be so insightful, that’s truly a shame.

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